Hackaday Links: February 2, 2020

Is it just me or did January seem to last for about three months this year? A lot has happened since the turn of the decade 31 days ago, both in the normie world and in our space. But one of the biggest pieces of news in the hacker community is something that won’t even happen for four more months: Hackaday Belgrade. The annual conference in Hackaday’s home-away-from-home in Serbia was announced, and as usual, one had to be a very early bird to score discount tickets. Regular tickets are still on sale, but I suspect that won’t last long. The call for proposals for talks went out earlier in the month, and you should really consider standing up and telling the world what you know. Or tell them what you don’t know and want to find out – there’s no better way to make connections in this community, and no better place to do it.

Someone dropped a tip this week about the possible closing of Tanner Electronics, the venerable surplus dealer located in Carrollton, Texas, outside of Dallas and right around the corner from Dallas Makerspace. The report from someone visiting the store is that the owner has to either move the store or close it down. I spoke to someone at the store who didn’t identify herself, but she confirmed that they need to either downsize or close. She said they’re actively working with a realtor and are optimistic that they’ll find a space that fits their needs, but the clock is ticking – they only have until May to make the change. We covered Tanner’s in a 2015 article on “The Death of Surplus”. It would be sad to lose yet another surplus store; as much as we appreciate being able to buy anything and everything online, nothing beats the serendipity that can strike walking up and down aisles filled with old stuff. We wish them the best of luck.

Are you finding that the smartphone in your pocket is more soul-crushing than empowering? You’re not alone, and more and more people are trying a “digital detox” to free themselves from the constant stimulation. And there’s no better way to go about this than by turning your smartphone into a not-so-smart phone. Envelope, a  paper cocoon for your phone, completely masks the screen, replacing it with a simple printed keypad. A companion app allows you to take and make phone calls or use the camera, plus provides a rudimentary clock, but that’s it. The app keeps track of how long you can go before unwrapping your phone and starting those sweet, sweet dopamine hits again. It reminds us a bit of the story we also saw this week about phone separation anxiety in school kids, and the steps schools are taking to mitigate that problem.

We saw a lot of articles this week on a LoRaWAN security vulnerability. The popular IoT network protocol has been billed as “secure by default”, but a white paper released by cybersecurity firm IOActive found a host of potential attack vectors. Their main beef seems to be that client devices which are physically accessible can be reverse engineered to reveal their encryption keys. They also point out the obvious step of taking the QR code off of client devices so an attacker can’t generate session keys for the device.

And finally, the mummy speaks! If you ever wondered what the voice of someone who lived 3,000 years ago sounded like, wonder no more. Using computed tomography (CT) data, scientists in the UK and Germany have recreated the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian scribe and priest from the time of pharaoh Rameses XI. He died in his mid-50s, and his mummified remains have been studied since the 1800s. CT data was used to 3D-print Nesyamun’s larynx and nasopharynx, which was then placed atop a “Vocal Tract Organ”, possibly the strangest musical instrument in existence. The resulting vowel-like utterance is brief, to say the least, but it’s clear and strong, and it’s pretty impressive that we can recreate the voice of someone who lived and died three millennia ago.

 

Crappy Robots World Championship Announced

[Daiju Ishikawa] wrote us to announce that the world championship Hebocon is taking place this August in Tokyo, and the registration has just opened. When you get a mail in the tip line that reads “From all over the world, crappy robots with low technological ability will gather and fight to determine the worst made robot in the world.” you know it’s Hackaday!

“Heboi” is Japanese for clumsy or crappy. If your idea of fun is poorly made, but hilarious, robots trying to shove each other out of a sumo ring, then a local Hebocon might be for you. And if you think you’ve got what it takes to be a world champion, start looking into tickets to Japan. (It’s not coincidentally on the same day as Maker Faire Tokyo.)

Either way, you should check out the video, embedded below, which is a great introduction to the sport/pastime/whatever. It’s a fun introduction to the gentle art of robotry, for people who are more creative than technical. We think that’s awesome.

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Shmoocon 2016: The Best Conference Booth You’ll Ever See

Shmoocon is here, and that means a dozen or so security companies have bought a booth and are out to promote themselves. Some are giving out shot glasses. One is giving out quadcopters. It is exceedingly difficult to stand out in the crowd.

At least one company figured it out. They’ve built a game so perfect for the computer literate crowd, so novel, and so interesting it guarantees a line in front of their booth. Who are they? Fortego, but that’s not important right now. The game they’ve created, BattleBits, is the perfect conference booth.

The game play for BattleBits is as simple as counting to two. You’re presented with an eight-bit hexidecimal number, and the goal is to key them into a controller with eight buttons for 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128. The answer for 0x56 is 01010110, and the answer for 0xFF is mashing all the buttons.

BattleBits Screenshot

To anyone not familiar with hex, there’s actually a rather handy trick to the game: you only need to memorize 16 different numbers. Hexadecimal numbers are easily broken up into nibbles, or groups of four bits. All you need to do is solve one hexadecimal digit at a time.

The controllers, or ‘decks’ as they’re, are built around a BeagleBone and a custom cape running a mishmash of Javascript and Python. When the game starts the player or players are presented with random bytes in hexadecimal format. Input the right bits in the shortest amount of time and you’ll work your way up the leader board.

This is by far the best conference booth I’ve ever seen. The creator of the BattleBits hardware, [Riley Porter], says he’ll be releasing the design files and code for this game so anyone can make one, something we really look forward to.

[Riley] also got a video of someone entering nibbles super, super fast.

Sex And Blinky LEDs At Burning Man

[Bunnie] was at Burning Man this year, and to illuminate his camp members in the dark and dusty nights of the playa, he created a blinky badge. This isn’t just any badge stuffed with RGB LEDs; each of the badges were unique by the end of Burning Man. These badges were made unique not by twiddling dials or pressing buttons; all the color patterns were bred with badge sex.

This social experiment to replicate nature’s most popular means of creating more nature is built around a peer to peer radio. Each badge is equipped with a radio, a circle of RGB LEDs, and a bit of code that expresses the pattern of lights on the badge as a sequence of genes. When one badge gives consent to another badge, they ‘breed’, creating a new pattern of lights. If you’re wondering about the specifics of the act, each badge is a hermaphrodite, and each badge transmits a ‘sperm’ to fertilize the other plant’s ‘egg’. There’s even a rare trait included in the genome of the badge; each badge has a 3% chance of having a white pixel that moves around the circle of LEDs. [Bunnie] found this trait was more common after a few days, suggesting that people were selectively breeding their badges.

Of course, finding potential mates is a paramount concern for any sexual organism, and the sex badge has this covered, too. The 900MHz radio listens for other badges in close proximity, and when any are found their owners are displayed on an OLED display. This came in handy for [Bunnie] more than a few times – there’s no phones out there, and simply knowing your friends are within a hundred meters or so is a big help.

The entire badge platform is documented online, along with the code and spec for badge genes. Badges with some sort of wireless communication have been around for a while, but this is the first time that communication has been used for something more than sharing contact information or implementing a chat room. It’s a great idea, and something we hope to see more of in future con badges.

LayerOne Hardware Hacking Village

Go to DEFCON and you’ll stand in line for five hours to get a fancy electronic badge you’ll be showing to your grandchildren some day. Yes, at DEFCON, you buy your hacker cred. LayerOne is not so kind to the technically inept. At LayerOne, you are given a PCB, bag of parts, and are told to earn your hacker cred by soldering tiny QFP and SOT-23 chips by hand. The Hardware Hacking Village at LayerOne was packed with people eagerly assembling their badge, or badges depending on how cool they are.

The badges are designed by [charlie x] of null space labs, one of the many local hackerspaces around the area. The design and construction of these badges were documented on the LayerOne Badge project on hackaday.io, and they’re probably best con badges we’ve ever seen.

There are two badges being distributed around LayerOne. The first is an extremely blinkey badge with a Cypress PSoC4 controlling 22 individually addressable RGB LEDs. Most conference attendees received a bare PCB and a bag of parts – the PCB will get you in the door, but if you want your nerd cred, you’ll have to assemble your own badge.

There are still a few interesting features for this badge, including an ESP8266 module that will listen to UDP packets and drive the LEDs. Yes, a random person on the same WiFi AP can control the LEDs of the entire conference event. The badges can also be chained together with just three wires, but so far no one has done this.

vocore
The Speaker and Staff badge, based on a VoCore

The second badge – for speakers and staff – is exceptionally more powerful. It’s a Linux box on a badge with two Ethernet connectors running OpenWRT. For a con badge, it’s incredibly powerful, but this isn’t the most computationally complex badge that has ever been at a LayerOne conference. For last year’s badge, [charlie] put together a badge with an FPGA, SAM7 microcontroller, SD card, and OLED display. They were mining Bitcons on these badges.

The Hardware Hacking Village was loaded up with a dozen or so Metcal soldering irons, binocular microscopes, and enough solder, wick, and flux to allow everyone to solder their badge together. Everyone who attempted it actually completed their badge, and stories of badge hacking competitions at other cons were filled with tales of people sprinkling components on random solder pads. Imagine: a conference where people are technically adept. Amazing.

MRRF: Hot Ends, Extruders, Extremely Posh Brits, And Stoic Swedes

As far as locations for the Midwest RepRap Festival go, it’s not exactly ideal. This is a feature, not a bug, and it means only the cool people come out to the event. There were a few people travelling thousands of miles across an ocean, just to show off some cool things they built.

Two Colors, One Nozzle

[Sanjay] and [Josh] from E3D came all the way from merry olde England to show off a few of their wares. The star of their show was the Cyclops extruder, a dual-extrusion hot end that’s two input, one output. Yes, two colors can come out of one nozzle.

cyclops

If you see a printer advertised as being dual extrusion, what you’re going to get is two extruders and two hot ends. This is the kludgy way to do things – the elegant solution is to make two colors come out of one nozzle.

The guys from E3D were showing off a few prints from their Cyclops nozzle that does just that, including a black and red poison dart frog, and a blue and white octopus. The prints looked amazing, and exactly what you would expect from a two-color print.

Rumor has it the development of the Cyclops involved extruding two colors, freezing the nozzle, and putting it in the mill just to see how the colors mixed. I didn’t see those pictures, but there’s a lot of work that went into this hot end.

The Power of Two Extruders

[Martin] of bondtech.se came to MRRF all the way from Sweden. He was there showing off his new extruder.

The extruder uses a normal stepper motor, but instead of the usual knurled or threaded feed wheel and bearing to push filament though, he’s using two counter-rotating feed wheels attached to a planetary gear system. That’s a lot of torque that doesn’t distort or strip the filament. When you consider all the weird filaments that are coming out – ninjaflex, and even 3D printable machinable wax filament, this is extremely interesting.

Even if your filament isn’t exactly 1.75 or 3mm in diameter, this setup will still reliably push plastic; there is a bolt that will move one of the feed wheels in and out 0.4mm.

[Martin] had a pair of his extruders hooked up to a strain gauge, and it’s strong enough to lift your printer off the table without stripping the filament. Here’s a video of that demo from the bondtech page.

31st Chaos Communications Congress

The 31st annual Chaos Communications Congress (31C3) kicked off today and you’ve already missed some great talks. If you’re not in Hamburg, Germany right now, you can watch the talks as they happen on the live stream. So stop reading this blog post right now, and check out the list of presentations. (But don’t fret if you’ve already missed something that you’d like to see. All the talks are also available after the fact.)

For those of you whose worldview is centered firmly on the You Ess of Ay, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Congresses are essentially the great-grandaddy of the US hacker conventions. If you’re one of the many (old?) US hackers who misses the early days of yore before DEFCON got too slick and professional, you’ll definitely like the CCC. Perhaps it’s the German mindset — there’s more emphasis on the community, communication, and the DIY aesthetic than on “the industry”. It’s more HOPE than DEFCON.

This is not to say that there won’t be some great hacking showcased at 31C3. It is the annual centerpiece of the European hacker scene, after all. Hardware, firmware, or software; it’s all exploited here.

Some of the talks are in German, naturally, but most are in English. If you haven’t attended before, you at least owe it to yourself to check out the live stream. Better yet, if you’re a member of an American hackerspace, you can at least set up local remote viewing for next year. Or maybe you’ll find yourself visiting Germany next Christmas.

[Image: Wikipedia / Tobias Klenze / CC-BY-SA 3.0]